Summertime Blues: Ear Infections in Dogs

Think swimming is the cause? Maybe not. Many dogs who never touch water have allergic otitis in the warmer months.

Allergies are a common cause of summertime ear infections in dogs. By: d_m_felstead_66

You know what’s worse than an ear infection? An ear infection that hampers summertime fun.

And it doesn’t just end with the sunny season. Canine ear infections (otitis externa) can cause yearlong — and lifelong — problems.

But infections are worse and more common in the summer. Summer allergies, summer heat and swimming can be factors for those yucky ears of summer.

Smelly Summer Ears

Many people think swimming causes ear infections, like “swimmer’s ear” in kids and people. Water-loving dogs may be more prone to ear infections, but lots of dogs jumping into lakes and playing in oceans have perfectly normal ears. So what’s the story?

Allergic disease (atopy) is a huge underlying cause of ear infections. Allergies are more common in spring and summer. Many dogs who never touch water have allergic otitis in the warmer months.

Heat and humidity can promote yeast growth in the ears, one of the most common pathogens found in canine ears that causes itch, smell and irritation.

Just a Little Dirty

A normal dog’s ear canal should be clean and completely free of debris.

Some of my clients tell me they’ve been cleaning their dog’s ears and getting out lots of brown debris for weeks to months. This is not normal.

If you…

  • See redness
  • See brown/blackish debris
  • See your dog itching his ears
  • Or smell an odor coming from your dog’s ears

…then it’s time to get some veterinary advice.

Check with the vet first before giving over-the-counter medicines to your dog. By: ashleycoombsphotography

Ear Infections Can Stick Around

“You must’ve given me the wrong ear medicine, Doc. Flipper still has an ear infection.” I hear this a lot.

Flipper probably still has an ear infection because we didn’t find the underlying cause. The most common underlying cause is allergic skin disease (atopic dermatitis). Many dogs, at least early in life, only show ear infections as a symptom of allergy. Ear drops alone are not going to control these dogs — atopy must be addressed in a systemic approach.

Year-round ear problems may also be an adverse food reaction. If dogs are showing up in January with bad ears, a food trial is definitely indicated.

Smell and Itch

Topical treatment in the ears, if done correctly, certainly helps. Most vets prescribe an ear cleaner and a medication for the ears.

Not all ear cleaners are the same. Get advice from your vet before spending the same amount of money on a product from a pet store. Some over-the-counter products may be appropriate for your dog’s problem, but get that professional advice first.

Many dogs need systemic medications or allergy testing along with ear medication. Catching these problems early is the key.

Here are some helpful tips on cleaning and medicating your dog’s ears from a veterinarian:

Treatment Failure

Many clients leave the vet’s office having watched the vet clean and medicate the ears and think they know what to do. Often they don’t — this is as much our fault as anyone’s.

A great idea is to have a technician spend extra time to make sure the client understands what home care is needed.

Difficult dogs with chronic ear infections are no picnic. There are newer products on the market that require only once-a-week or even less frequent treatment. Often, a vet or vet tech can do this, so the frustration between human and beloved canine doesn’t worsen!

Rechecks are extremely important, although many clients don’t return. But make sure your vet rechecks the ears after the 2-week treatment period.

Perhaps you think that because the itch is gone and the smell is better, everything is OK. But if your vet finds lots of deep debris, redness and inflammation in that ear canal on an otoscopic exam, the problem has not been solved, and the symptoms will return.

Following up on first or early infections can save you so much money down the line.

A festering, underlying ear infection will:

  • Come back with a fury
  • Be more difficult to treat
  • Be more expensive to treat
  • Cause chronic changes in the ear that may lead to continual treatment failure

Happy Summer Ears

Monitor your dog’s ears this summer with the smell test and the ear cleaning test. Also, don’t ignore itchy ears.

Follow advice and seek early treatment. With ears, an ounce of prevention is truly worth it.


This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS, and was last updated Oct. 11, 2018.

Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD

View posts by Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD
Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD, is a small animal and exotics veterinarian who has split her time between a veterinary practice in Pelham, Massachusetts, and her studio in New York City. Dr. Lichtenberg is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine with 30 years of experience. Her special interests are soft tissue surgery and oncology.

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